PICKENS COUNTY— A decision for more than $3.5 million in new school spending drew praise and criticsm within the Pickens County School Board.
The board passed a motion Monday night that commits the spending from the building fund surplus to a roof repair and new classroom technology.
“We authorized two expenditures,” said Shelton. “The first was $550,000 to replace the roof at Edwards Middle School. There was also a $3.188 million expenditure to replace technology that was purchased in 2007. That includes the polyvision boards and laptop computers for teachers.”
The vote passed 3-2 with board members Ben Trotter and Jimmy Gillespie opposed. Chairman Alex Saitta, who was absent from the meeting due to illness, was not present for the vote.
Saitta says he was not pleased with the decision.
“They keep voting to grow the size of the program. When the first county wide building program was put on the drawing board in 2005, it was $158 million,” said Saitta. “Since then it was increased in size seven times to $374.2 million. With this vote, it was increased again, an 8th time to $377 million.”
Shelton says he believes these are two important needs in the District.
“These issues have been out there for several years,” said Shelton. “We knew about the roof replacement in 2009. We also have technology that was purchased in 2009. You’ve got operation issues; you’ve got failure issues, and some of the technology you can’t buy parts for. That puts you in a refresh mode with those things.”
Saitta says the District will be using money from the building fund surplus that was originally slated to be returned to the taxpayers in Pickens County.
“In 2006, hundreds of millions was borrowed for the building program. It was anticipated $42 million would be earned in interest while that money sat in the bank waiting to be spent on construction and renovations,” said Saitta. “We learned earlier this year $55 million in interest was earned, so in July, Trotter, Gillespie and myself voted to set aside the $13 million to be returned to the taxpayers.”
Shelton says he does not disagree with Saitta’s premise, but also states the money should be available for “pressing needs.”
“On the surface, that’s not a bad idea,” said Shelton. “If we have the surplus, two years out when the building plan decommissions from the bond issue of 2006, then fine, we should rebate it and give a credit to every taxpayer in the county. In between now and then, if there are pressing needs (we need to take care of them.)”
“As long as these buildings are standing there are going to be some issues,” Shelton continued. “I think if you take care of things prudently, you save expenditures down the road. If it was up to me, I would never spend a dime, but you have to equip classrooms.”
Saitta says he believes Shelton is making an effort to spend the remaining surplus.
“I warned (that) Mr. Shelton and the other liberals on the board would be looking for ways to get their hands on that new found building money and spend it,” said Saitta. “My warning has proven to be valid. When I happen to miss a meeting due to illness (Saitta said he was rushed to the emergency room the morning of the meeting), Shelton made a motion, and it was supported by Cooper and Edwards, to spend $3.5 million of the $13 million that was slated to be returned to the taxpayers.”
“Mark my words, they will be working to get their hands on the rest of that money so in the end nothing will returned to taxpayers,” Saitta said.
Shelton emphasized that the expenditures needed to be taken care of right away.
“I have to believe that a roof on building that we just spent $10 million on is a pressing need,” said Shelton. “If we don’t spend $550,000 today then we may be spending $2 million two years from now because the roof will have to be replaced and you may have some structural damage due to a leaky roof.”
“As far as the technology is concerned, we’re starting to see failures in the classroom as it is,” he said. “There’s almost 100 percent utilization of technology in the classrooms by teachers right now, so if they don’t have that delivery method, what are they going to do?”